Remarks to the ISM Graduating Class of 2012
offered at the Commencement Banquet on May 20
Martin D. Jean
Tomorrow, you will receive your coveted Yale degree, a symbol of having succeeded in your academic program: in courses you elected, lectures you went to, lessons you received, rehearsals you attended, papers you wrote, sermons you preached, and concerts you performed in.
Those are the curricular requirements, and they are important since they deepen and broaden expertise in your chosen field. But of course they form only part of your Yale experience. What about sherry hour? Meals shared? Trips taken? Happy hours organized? Late night movies? Long bus rides at 7am? Long stairs at Meteora? The ISM sponsored a number of those, didn’t we? Why in the world might we have done that? The fact is that these experiences are just as important a part of your Yale education as the rest, as important as all those hours in the library or in the practice room, because they nurture another form of practice: that of friendship.
It’s because of the friendships built during this time that people often say they are the best years of their life. But it’s not only because you’ve found new buddies to hang out with; it’s because in building these friendships, you are building yourself. By constructing relationships with others, you are constructing new pathways in your heart. Bias and prejudice fall away when you hear people tell a joke on themselves, or speak passionately and intelligently about an idea. A story told from childhood sounds strangely familiar, because it’s your story as well. You see aspects in others that you admire, empathize with, wish to support, enhance, and nurture. You wish the best for them.
But here is one thing more: by supporting these friends, through standing with them in their convictions, something else has happened: you have been made new yourself. You have stepped into their shoes and walked a mile through their lives. You have discovered that learning is much more than about knowing, it is about loving. You have learned that the ways we love inform the ways we know.
This is not an unfamiliar dynamic in the Christian tradition, is it? Knowing God and loving God are deeply intermingled. In fact, the interdependence of knowing and loving is a deep truth about human nature in general.
For years to come, one image from this year will be engraved in my heart more deeply than all the rest, and it happened only last Thursday evening, as those of you who attended the trip danced euphorically under the Turkish stars, sailing down the Bosphorus to the music of those wonderful musicians from Istanbul, all of us straddling the crease in the globe between two continental plates. There you all were, living out the kind of integration we call you to in the Institute as you came together in love and joy, dissolving any barriers that may once have been there. This experience is like food to you, nourishing to the core. Savor it now, and make more such friends and such experiences in your lives to come.
As you leave here, you are being asked to continue this dynamic relationship of knowing and loving throughout your whole life: not uncritically, to be sure, but faithfully, compassionately, and earnestly: being made new by it and making the world new as well.
For these reasons and so many more, you will receive your Yale degrees tomorrow, and with just as much seriousness, your ISM certificate tonight. Know that our warmest wishes and love go with all of you as head out into the world.
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photo by Robert A. Lisak